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Etymology of the Word Prime

Date: 08/28/2002 at 18:39:39
From: Tomas Schweizer
Subject: Prime Numbers

Why are prime numbers called prime?

Thank you.


Date: 08/29/2002 at 10:40:19
From: Doctor Sarah
Subject: Re: Prime Numbers

Hi Tomas - thanks for writing to Dr. Math.

Here's what Steven Schwartzman has to say in his _The Words of 
Mathematics - An Etymological Dictionary of Mathematical Terms Used in 
English_:

prime: from Latin primus "first," from the Indo-European root per- 
"forward, through, in front of"; there are many other extended 
meanings... Mathematically speaking, a prime number belongs to the 
first, most basic category of numbers: a prime cannot be divided by 
any number other than itself and 1.

- Doctor Sarah, The Math Forum
  http://mathforum.org/dr.math/ 
Associated Topics:
Elementary Prime Numbers
Middle School Prime Numbers

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